Police: At least 1 teen missing from youth ranch in New Mexico returns

Relates to:
Date: 2013-10-12
Source: cnn.com

From AnneClaire Stapleton

(CNN) -- Authorities say at least one of the nine teenagers they say were abducted from a New Mexico ranch for troubled youth has returned to family.

But an Amber Alert will remain in place until authorities can "physically confirm their well-being," New Mexico State Police said in a statement Saturday.

The Amber Alert for all nine teens was issued despite the fact that an attorney for the ranch director said all the teens were safe.

The incident started Friday when state police investigators went to the Tierra Blanca Youth Ranch to execute a search warrant and investigate claims of abuse, authorities said.

The youth were not at the ranch and neither was Scott Chandler, the ranch director, the New Mexico State Police said.

But Pete Domenici, Chandler's attorney, said the teens had just gone on a trip and nothing was wrong.

"The boys from the Tierra Blanca Ranch have been on a previously scheduled activity away from the ranch for several days," Domenici said. "They are safe and have already been picked up by their parents or their parents are en route to pick them up."

Despite the attorney's statement, the Amber Alert was not rescinded.

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"This is still an active investigation," said Sgt. Emmanuel Gutierrez of the New Mexico State Police. "We have not visually seen these kids to confirm their whereabouts, which is why the Amber Alert remains active."

The confusion seems to stem from allegations of abuse of the teens at the ranch, CNN affiliate KRQE reported.

"We have allegations of abuse," New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez said, according to KRQE. "We're required by law to investigate, and when you suddenly show up to the place and everybody's gone, it's of huge concern to us."

State officials were investigating claims that youth at the camp had been threatened, shackled and beaten, the affiliate said.

Chandler has denied these claims, his attorney said, and he has filed suit against the state for the handling of the case, KRQE reported.

The ranch director tried to resolve the situation in court, but a hearing had been delayed, the lawyer said.

"We attempted to avoid exactly this type of situation by requesting an emergency hearing, which would have been held yesterday," Domenici said

But early Saturday, it was still unclear where Chandler and the teens were, and police said they were still searching.

The Tierra Blanca Ranch in Hillsboro, New Mexico, is a 30,000-acre facility that bills itself as a "new beginning for troubled at-risk youth," according to its website. "For almost 20 years, this beautiful and historic ranch has been the setting of Chandler family efforts to work with troubled and at-risk youths."

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